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College of Design

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sustainable Housing--Beyond "Going Green"

For housing studies majors, the concept of sustainability goes far beyond the latest "green standards" and individual carbon footprints. Yes, it is something we are taught and fully understand--but it's our job to look at the bigger picture. Housing is something that must be constantly monitored, evaluated, re-evaluated, and most of all, sustained. Not only is it something that most people consider a basic human need, but it is also accounts for over half of our nation's fixed assets. In it's entirety, it is estimated that our nation's housing stock is valued at around $17.8 trillion.

Sustainability is a MUST, and our economy depends on it. After the latest burst of the housing bubble, there is no shortage of work to be done, and our diverse coursework teaches us of the complex framework of sustainable housing from all angles. Housing is like its own ecosystem supporting humanity, where seemingly unrelated disciplines rely on one another to support and empower humans and their relationship to the natural world. Here are a few examples from housing coursework:
Beginning at the household level, Systems Approach to Residential Construction and Our Home, Our Environment give us a crash course of modern housing construction methods, waste reduction, and energy efficiency practices. Although I was terrified to find a step-by-step manual of how to construct a modern Canadian (AKA cold climate) wood-framed home on my list of required textbooks, it was a surprisingly interesting way to explore how the structures work as a system within itself, the natural surroundings, and the people who live there. Aside from lectures from our instructors, we had the opportunity to speak to employees of the U of M's very own Cold Climate Housing Program and Center for Sustainable Building Research.
Promoting Independence in Housing and Community, which is further explained in previous entries, involves the design, planning, and implementation of universal design principles to allow all people the freedom of housing choice, satisfaction and affordability--regardless of age, disability status, or other limitation. Sustainable neighborhoods and communities shouldn't restrict certain people from living there, and our nation's housing stock shows weakness in overall accessibility and adaptability. As the Baby Boomers continue to climb in age, changes will need to be made.

And finally, (skipping over a bunch to get to the grand scheme of things), Housing Policy. To put it simply, our nation's economy went down the drain in recent years because our obsession with homeownership got extremely out of hand. Greed, deregulation, and blatant ignorance brought an end to what was previously forecasted as exponentially rising home values. Many warned that our lending practices were completely unsustainable and it could not go on for much longer, but few listened. The nation was thriving from it, and was enjoying the ride.

As our natural ecological systems fluctuate and adapt to changes, so should our systems of living.

Jesse - Housing Studies, B.S.